Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Some Retreats Launch You Ahead

By C.J. West
Suspense. Creativity. Action

This last week I locked myself in a friend’s apartment to block out the noise of everyday life and focus on writing. I imagined entire days doing nothing but working on my latest mystery and dreaming up ideas for what comes next.

That’s how I drew it up, but it didn’t turn out that way.

On Monday there was my CJ West Kills Blog to write.

On Tuesday I met with someone about a new project and then spent the afternoon running between my doctor’s office and the lab for X-rays and blood work.

My Wednesday was a complete bust. I had a commitment that lasted 14 hours. The only writing I’m doing in the 26 minutes left in the day is this blog.

My retreat may sound like a failure to you, but it was very productive. You’d think a writer would spend a whole lot of time writing, but the truth is that the pressure to sell books often distracts me from what I love most about this gig—dreaming and storytelling.

This week I’ve made great progress on the mystery I’m currently writing. I’m now into Act III and the climax of the book is taking shape. Getting away has helped me recharge my creative batteries and the story is really flowing.

When I’m able to dedicate multiple hours to a project day after day I feel the depth of the story grow. Each day I develop a deeper understanding of the characters and as the plot unfolds I find myself adding elements that neatly fit plot and character in a way I couldn’t achieve without the continued focus day after day.

I deliver realism in my work that isn’t there when my writing sessions are separated by too much time.

I also had an unexpected bonus fall from the sky last weekend. While I was on the beach (supposedly relaxing), I developed the idea for a sequel to The End of Marking Time. I’ve always had trouble with a sequel because of the way the book ended, but last weekend I worked out much of the plot of the sequel and I’m confident the ending will be just as shocking as the original.

Even the small amount of time I dedicated to focused writing has really helped me. It’s fairly easy to do what I’ve done if your schedule and home life allow. Simply set aside the time to write and ignore those distractions when they come calling.

For most of us that's easier said than done.

Whispering Pines Writers Retreat
West Greenwich, RI

If that's the case for you, try booking a week at a retreat like The Inn at the Oaks in Eastham, Massachusetts.   A space like this is not only inspiring because of its beauty, by pulling you away from the little emergencies of daily life, this retreat allows you to focus your energy on writing for a weekend, a week, or longer.

If going it alone isn’t your thing, you can go for a conference like this Writers Conference at Ocean Park, held in Ocean Park, Maine this August. A retreat like this offers more than a beautiful quiet setting. A good writers conference offers writing classes, assignments to spur your creativity, and the camaraderie of working alongside other writers.

One of these types of getaways is bound to help you launch your writing project forward.

I hope you find a way to pour yourself into your writing this summer no matter which type of retreat you choose.


  1. Thanks for a thoughtful post. I also develop a better understanding of my story and characters when I can write every day for long periods of time. When life gets in the way, and I'm hit and miss with writing, it takes too long to get back into the story.

    Taking a writing break between drafts or novels is necessary too, so I don't get burnt out. I'm about at that point right now. Can't wait to recharge.

  2. It's been a longtime dream of mine to go away all by myself for a writer's retreat. The image of a mountain cabin by the lake often pops into my head. But just like you, I wonder how much work I'd actually get done. There are always distractions no matter where you go. A cabin by the lake could certainly have them as well.

    But like you said, just because you're not writing doesn't mean you're not being productive. Sometimes a change in scenery is all it takes to spur your writers mind into that blissful and often elusive state of inspiration.

  3. L.J. I agree taking a break between drafts is good to let the story settle. Storyboarding is my idea of vacation, so I usually think about a new idea whenever I'm waiting for feedback on a WIP or letting it sit a while.

  4. I struggle with this every day, trying to pack too much into the day and still have the energy to write. A solitary getaway sounds fantastic and would definitely stir my imagination for plots, but I think I'd prefer to spend my getaway time in a busy city, watching people, eavesdropping on conversations, and using the juicy bits I hear.

  5. Expected outcomes. The LoML takes an eight day trip once a year with his buddies to play golf. I'm always sure I'll get a lot done. I'm always wrong. My expected outcome gets sabotaged by feelings of being alone. Too alone. It's weird.

    My dad is, right now, in a cabin on a lake in northern Manitoba only accessible by a float plane. He might be writing but more than likely he's drinking a martini and pontificating with whatever buddies have joined him. His lack of an expected outcome will give him the perfect one.

    The idea for RED TIDE came to me at a writers conference when I was supremely bored with the session I was attending. I went and found a quiet place at a bar and found this troubled woman with what I called at the time a cadaver dog. A totally unexpected outcome from a boring session.

    I've had to work to get back to the story of the manuscript I'm writing now. I hadn't touched it since March. Between now and then a book has been launched and another has gone out to beta readers. But it's been so hard to find my way back to this story. And it's a really good story.

    I guess what I've taken a gazillion words to say is that yeah, C.J., I get you. We find unexpected bonuses in places we'd least expect them and struggle when our plans for the "perfect" retreat go awry.

  6. Those places sound awesome. Now I just need to write enough to convince myself that I need to be there to write some more. :)


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